11 in a row

Good morning three people who read this blog, how are you? Let’s talk about the weather. It’s uncomfortably muggy here. How muggy is it? It’s as muggy as opening day in Tottenham’s new Europe’s Largest Team Gift Shop, where there are queues of mugs buying mugs with pictures of the mugs they support on them.

I apologize for that, I just wanted to say that Tottenham are some mugs.

Yesterday Arsenal beat Sporting 1-0 in Lisbon and it was another match that followed a now familiar pattern: start slow, look like we are going to possibly lose, Emery tweaks things, Arsenal win and look much more comfortable as they finish the match, players who looked poor suddenly look a revelation, and like agent K flashing that red “forgetting laser” the previous 80 minutes of football is washed from our brains and we are left singing songs about how great Granit Xhaka is at left back.

Ok, that’s two metaphors. I will stop now, it’s becoming abusive.

I wrote a quick stats preview for yesterday’s match on the Arsenal Review and from that preview I came away with the following keys to the game:

  • Break the Sporting press with smooth passing and teamwork
  • Attack at pace, dribble at Coates in and around the box
  • Be ready for a lot of tackles and rotational fouling (see point one)
  • Watch out for diving Nani
  • Help Bellerin down the right (one way to do this is shift play to the left)
  • Take our chances
  1. Break the press: I can’t tell if we are really struggling or if teams are really testing us. Or maybe that we aren’t really struggling as much as the fans (myself included) think we are struggling. Or maybe we really are struggling. Or maybe it really doesn’t matter. Against Sporting, Arsenal actually counter-pressed in the first half. Arsenal attempted 15 tackles (to Sporting’s 16) and made 6 interceptions (to Sporting’s 1). Those Interceptions mostly (5/6) happened high up the pitch in the opposition half.
  2. Passing wasn’t smooth in the first half, Guendouzi had five bad passes and was robbed of the ball twice. I’ve made no secret of the fact that he’s my favorite player and the one thing I’d like to see him get better at is protecting the ball. He can’t be falling all over the place under pressure, like he did in the first half. That said, that’s a strength and confidence thing. As he hits the gym and gets stronger and as he gets more top-flight time under his belt he will learn how to better protect himself from fouls and pressure.
  3. Sporting did tackle a lot, but only in the first half. In the second half, they hardly even attempted a tackle. That’s strange. I still can’t quite figure out what Emery is doing that radically changes these games. It’s not just changing personnel. That’s way too simplistic and anyone who tells you that it was just bringing on Torreira is blowing smoke because Torreira starts games that start badly as often as he’s brought on late and they end well. There is something subtle changing here that I haven’t caught yet. I know that we are passing better and when Torreira came on, we switched to a 4231 and Guendouzi hit 97% of his passes. But again, we play 4231 in firsat halfs. We play Torreira and a passing mid in first halfs. If you see what Emery is doing, please tell us so that I can steal the idea and pretend it’s mine.
  4. Granit left back. It’s a metaphor.
  5. Nani did dive. Manchester United players really are the worst people on the planet.
  6. Coates is and always has been a disaster. Arsenal were close to winning a penalty off a foul on the edge of the box (by Coates on Welbs) but it was Coates’ error that eventually gifted Danny the goal. Coates also headbutted the Lich and here’s hoping that he DOESN’T get a retroactive ban. I want him on the pitch for our next match.
  7. “Help Bellerin” – ehh, or Lich. They did actually. Part of the reason Unai played a 433 to start was so that Lich had Ramsey and Mkhi on the right helping him against Acuna. Acuna was still Sporting’s best player but he didn’t create a single shot for his teammates all match. He did have 3 dribbles, all down the right, all in the first half. He also had to make 6 tackles, 5 in the first 60 minutes. And he was dispossessed twice by Emery’s first half high press.
  8. Taking the chances. We did. Torreira played the pass to Auba, Auba flicked on, Coates didn’t get to the ball (error), and Welbeck finished nicely. Arsenal only had three really good chances in this match: one from Ramsey to Aubameyang (keeper save), one from Guendouzi to Welbeck (blocked), and the Welbeck goal. Somehow Auba isn’t credited with the assist on that goal, which is a shame.

Anyway, it’s yet another win from a slow start and the 11th win in a row. Emery is doing all of the things we wanted in a post-Wenger manager: he’s changing things when they aren’t working (“Wenger 70th minute subs”), he plays different systems (the mythical plan B), he’s brought in new players and is giving chances to young players, he’s uncovered unknown gems (Guendouzi) from lower leagues, and he’s revitalized the careers of players like Iwobi. If we were Tottenham we would be releasing a DVD “The Starting 11: How Unai Emery became King of North London with his 11 match win streak”. Or something. But we are the Arsenal. So instead, we will stew about it.

Like a deeply red stew, that’s been sitting on the stove for about 4 years.


Metaphor Source: my deeply disturbed brain


  1. Two cents on why the drastic improvement in second halves –

    1. Emery deliberately does not have a settled “first” XI so, in a sense, the system is changing game to game, even in games when we’re nominally playing a 4231. We’re building the chemistry as we fly through the game. Or something.

    2. Emery pays much more attention to detail. Eg: Switching Iwobi to the left wing last game to counter Chilwell, or constantly yelling instructions to Xhaka to cover for the fact that that he’s playing him out of position. This is, of course, an implicit (now explicit) criticism of Wenger, who built the blueprint that a lot of ‘modern’ managers use, but fell behind the trend of giving players extremely detailed instructions.

    Two bis: Our defense is genuinely mediocre. Mustafi we are familiar with, pairing him with Sokratis is much of a muchness. Its not a coincidence Holding masks his deficiencies better. Bellerin has lost a bit of the recovery pace that tipped him into decent defender territory. He’s still great on the attack, so on the whole a positive, but defensively not quite. Also we are sans left-back.

    Once we assert ourselves on the other end, this becomes more of a moot point – our “improvement” to the eyes is coming as much from not having to defend as it is from attacking well.

  2. Tim, fwiw, I’ve few theories about what changed/happened.

    One, quicker passes, quicker pinging. Recycle at once, don’t dwell on it.

    Two, more progressive passing. Torreira noticeably tried more upfield passes than we’d been attempting — passes of the sort that led to Welbeck’s goal. Elneny, Xhaka and Ramsey are all mostly conservative passers (even if Ramsey’s 3 assist so far is 2nd to Bellerin’s 4). We know that Xhaka likes a long, crossfield ping, but the majority of his passes are short and tidy ones (eye, not stats evidence).

    Three, we did not have the cleverness of movement, so the midfield had few options to hit men on the move. it’s not Elneny’s natural position, but Auba was especially poor.

    Torreira and Guendouzi are really good at hitting it crisp, to feet, FORWARD. And players like Laca are really good at receiving those bullets. In the game, Elneny actually played ahead of Ramsey in Emery’s preferred “10 press” (and he won us a free kick, an inch outside the box), so his passing did not influence play. Neither did Ramsey’s or Guendouzi’s.

    Guendouzi’s early uncertaintly in possession was probably because he couldn’t see a run for a quick vertical, or because he was the designated sitter. Either way, Torreira’s entry freed him — and Ramsey who played better when pushed up to take Elneny’s role. Suddenly our forwards were making the runs to receive the quick verticals, and it showed with Auba’s faint flick (pass from Torreira) to Welbeck.

    1. He shouldn’t be since technically it last came off the defender. May be a pre-assist if it means anything.

  3. This match made clear what our full backs bring to our attack, and the sudden, massive importance of Bellerin there. It’s clear now that Lichtsteiner can’t replicate Hector’s cutting edge. He tried it a few times early, and simply lacked the speed and dynamism. When the full backs are flying, the forwards can make in and out runs, and it’s Christmas for the pass guys. So Hector and Mesut are like conjoined twins, as are Monreal and Iwobi to a lesser extent. Laca and Auba benefit, and at times they’ve all combined.

    We did not have that dynamism going forward from wide. Auba had little or no overlap from Xhaka (who again played decently in a makeshift role), and Mhki and Licht were less than average. I’d argue that even though we’ve generally had slow starts, we were less coherent than usual early on yesterday. Some of that was on Emery not having key components. The other was playing a couple of people, like Elneny, out of position. The third was a number of players simply not playing well.

    But credit to Emery. He’s one of the most effective coaches Ive seen at changing things around and making them significantly better

    1. Good point Claude on Licht and Xhaka. The understanding between our wide players (Micki/Iwobi) and full backs (Bellerin/Monreal) is vital if we are going to score ground pass-tap in goals. It is that duo’s movement that creates the space in the first place. Xhaka thankfully didn’t go high up on overlap (no way he is returning on time) and I notice Licht just dwells on the ball both in Leicester and Sporting games. Like to see AMN give a try at LB if Nacho’s not fit.

      Can someone please explain what is expected of him both from manager and our perspective? Because I’m certain he fulfills none at the moment. I hope Tim does an exclusive article on him or in general the role of Emery’s 2 holding midfielders in the 4-2-3-1 system.

  4. “Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” — John Keats

    Words of wisdom for any Arsenal supporter at the moment.
    All will become clear in time. For now, for the first time in years, it’s a great time to be an Arsenal fan.

  5. Hi everyone,
    I think its always a game of 2 halves because Emery wants the other team to exhaust their energy while we play possession football in the first half, focus on inviting the other team to play and hope to hit them on the counter which is the 1st half game plan. The 2nd period is the business side were instead of inviting the opposition we play direct quick combinations to create goal scoring opportunities as opposed to slower build ups and opportunistic counter attacks in the 1st half.

    Against Chelsea when we were 2 goals down we switched into the direct mode and drew level and indeed we could have scored more goals if our finishing was not awful on the day. So the scoreline impacts how we carry on, because in the 2nd half against Chelsea we seemed to slow down and we allowed more them to dictate the pace.

    Against Man City we were yet to gel, and we fluffed the goal scoring opportunities we had. Against Fulham we practically overran them because our possession strategy and their defensive lapses combined to give us a 1st half goal. Though the inclusion of Iwobi and Monreal creating a partnership with precise training ground attacking moves saw us get the 1st goal similar to the 4th goal from the right.

    Lacazette’s hold up play and hustle is our premier league strength, Mesut’s vision and passes, then the full backs playing deadly cutbacks, that seems to be the spice of the team’s attack. Mhkitaryan did create a similar goal to Ozil’s first against Leicester.

    We have a pattern of running towards the box, spreading the ball to the fullback who returns the ball into the box, with a precise pass to the nearest free player who has arrived in the box behind the striker who has drawn the defenders to him by his run. The speed is essential because when this passage of play is executed, the opposition defense will be at a loss as to whom to defend with the different directions the ball has been played to and the return cut back is hit into the net.

    I hope this makes sense though the gaffer’s insistence that we are starting poorly indicates that the players are not yet fully capable of executing the dominant pattern for 90 minutes. But I thought we controlled the 2nd half yesterday with enough intensity to show we had a superior game plan.

    1. I must applaud your idea about letting the other team run themselves down while we ‘hold serve’ as it were in the first half and put a tiring team to the sword in the second half. I’m sure Emery would like us to match up better with our energy and overall play in the first half of matches but it is what it is.

  6. Tim… try watching the Leicester game again. We see a similar tale of two halves but instead of the 45 min mark it started right after that Leicester’s goal. I guess we treat the game as 1-0 down or similar in 2nd halves and hence the urgency. We are more ready to take riskier pass options and sometimes the substitutions also play a part by taking the ordinary/bad player out. Also for every tactical plan that Emery works out it’s no guarantee the opposition plays the way he predicted them. Hence the players/manager tweaks little things and it takes a while.

  7. This is an interesting piece on 11-in-a-row and counting:

    “Arsenal’s run of eleven straight wins under Emery has also featured a wide variety of different players. No fewer than 21 have played their part since a 3-1 win over West Ham on the third weekend of the season got the ball rolling, while an extraordinary 13 — some sixty-two per cent — have found the back of the net.”

    The rest is here:


    1. Shite! The news is out that we are not that Arsenal do far under Emery. Can’t we stay under the radar until the second half of the season for crying out loud.

  8. The ‘stew’ metaphor.

    Did you by any chance get it from Nigerian Twitter?

    It’s been the whole rage for close to a week now here.

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